Frequently Asked Questions

Where did turfgrass lawns come from?
Turfgrass lawns seem to have their origin in the parts of Europe, where moist, cool but mild climates are conducive to growing the kinds of grasses traditionally associated with “turf.” Given that the climate of the United States is quite varied, the development of turfgrasses that grow in other than cool, mild climates has been an ongoing challenge. With the advent of the lawn mower in 1830, lawn care entered a new era and expanded the range of those able to grow and maintain a lawn. The establishment of parks in major cities like New York and the emergence of suburbia seem to have driven the development of turfgrass lawns as the standard landscape aesthetic for non-urban America.


Is turf good or bad?
Turfgrass lawns have positive and negative attributes. On the one hand, turfgrasses excel as surfaces for recreational activities and are relatively easy to keep. They offer a consistent aesthetic look to a neighborhood. Maintained lawns are not the preferred habitat for most organisms, including some unwelcome visitors such as mice. Turfgrasses do provide some ecosystem services. Lawns remove carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the air and trap dirt. Healthy grass (including some thatch that acts like blotter paper) helps absorb runoff, preventing polluted water from reaching waterways. Vegetated surfaces help reduce heat island effects in urbanized areas as well.

On the other hand, turfgrass does not enhance biodiversity and provides little habitat or support for most organisms. While this may be a welcome attribute when it comes to such creatures as mice, it is more problematic when birds, butterflies, honeybees and other beneficial organisms are affected. When a lawn is unhealthy and patchy, dirt can be eroded and washed into our waterways. When lawn care products are misapplied, rain can carry them into our rivers and streams. Maintaining lawns typically requires using gas powered equipment that consumes fossil fuels and contributes air pollution. Trees and native plants generally do not require regular watering or fertilizer to stay green and healthy. They also are more effective in reducing stormwater runoff than are turfgrasses. In addition, the roots of native plants and trees do a better job of stabilizing stream banks than do those of turf grass.


What type of grass should I plant?
Cool season turfgrasses do best between 60 and 75 degrees and are recommended in Ohio. Four species are generally used: turf-type tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, fine fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass. Of these, turf-type tall fescue is recommended because of its pest resistance and tolerance of low fertility, soil compaction, and drought.


Are there alternatives to turfgrass?
The only plant that looks and acts like turfgrass… is turfgrass. However, you can grow short, clumping prairie grasses such as wild rye, little bluestem, side oats and blue grama, or prairie dropseed. You may also consider low-growing groundcovers like wild stonecrop, ginger, or ferns. Flowers, vegetable gardens, and landscaping help reduce the overall size of your lawn.


How often should I water my lawn? 
Make a decision about whether or not you’ll provide regular watering for your lawn or let it go dormant in the summer. Do not do both; sporadic, irregular watering “confuses” your turf resulting in shallow rooting and stress. Dormancy of several weeks is not harmful for established lawns; turfgrasses are cool-season plants designed for dormancy when water is scarce, though they may look ugly and brown. Proper summer watering consists of about 1” of water per week; you can measure rainfall or irrigation with a rain gauge or even a tuna can. If you have an irrigation system that doesn’t have a sensor to measure rainfall, contact Franklin Soil and Water to receive one free of charge.


Is fertilization really necessary? 
Grass is a plant that benefits from supplemental nutrients to stay healthy. In fact, proper fertilization can prevent degradation of water quality. When grass is patchy or lacking organic matter, it cannot capture much water or degrade pollutants as effectively. In addition, soils that develops phosphorus deficiencies over time lead to poor turfgrass health, resulting in increased soil erosion and nutrient runoff. Newer lawns with shallow-rooted, immature turf do require phosphorus for root development, but established lawns benefit from complete or balanced fertilizers, and can be fertilized at a reduced rate. At least four applications per year are recommended in Ohio, with additional applications at lower concentrations intended to avoid nutrient spikes. During the growing season, fertilizer may be applied every 8-10 weeks. Late summer (September) and late fall (November) are optimal times to fertilize since grass plants are developing their root systems. Too much fertilizer, especially in the spring and summer, can harm your grass. Never apply fertilizer on drought-stressed grass or frozen ground.


How should I use pesticides? 
Pesticides and the regulations governing them have changed drastically over the years, resulting in generally safer products for people and the environment. The USEPA is the primary agency regulating pesticides (herbicides are considered pesticides), and requires vigorous tests to ensure they do not cause undo harm. There are many factors affecting pesticide fate, including chemical composition, soil type, site characteristics, and management techniques. However, using products according to their label and applying them correctly is the best way to ensure the safety of yourself and those around you.

Table 1: Pesticide Managment
Pesticide Management Don’tsPesticide Management Do’s
Apply to slopes near surface water Promote management practices that increase infiltrationPromote management practices that increase infiltration
Apply near shallow water tables Follow the label
Apply volatile pesticides in hot weatherAvoid or reduce use of products that are known to be of higher risk for contamination
Apply pesticides when it is windy

Note: Data for table created from “Environmental Fate of Pesticides and Nutrients”. Dr. David Gardner, The Ohio State University. 2016.


The law requires that one use a pesticide or herbicide according to the directions on its label. Failing to do so is breaking the law. The Ohio Department of Agriculture licenses pesticide dealers and applicators and offers training and testing sessions throughout the year, and lawn care companies employ properly trained employees. This not only helps assure the safe use of pesticides, it also helps prevent misuse and mishandling.

The Solid Waste Authority of Ohio (SWACO) provides free Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) disposal services for all Franklin County residents. This includes lawn chemicals, fertilizers, and insecticides. Residents may utilize the HHW facility at 645 E. 8th Avenue, or look a mobile collection event held at various locations within Franklin County. For more information, visit swaco.org.

What does "organic" lawn care mean? 
Conventional lawn care implies the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, while a more “natural” approach relies in the addition of organic matter such as compost from plant or animal materials to improve soil. Good soil has organic matter that binds mineral soil particles together to form aggregates that create pore space for root growth and oxygen. This results in better drainage, water-holding capacity, and nutrient availability that ultimately support healthy plant growth in the long term.